Toakai Teitoi of Kiribati, a Micronesian island nation 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii, did not think calamity was awaiting him when he agreed to get a lift on his brother-in-law’s boat. A two-hour sea journey turned into a 105-day odyssey, filled with death and despair, that ended with a miracle.
On May 28 Teitoi, 41, and his brother-in-law Ielu Falaile, 52, got into a 15-foot wooden boat that would take them back to Teitoi’s hometown of Maiana from the capital of Tarawa, where Teitoi had flown to be sworn in as a policeman.
Halfway through their journey the two men came upon a school of fish and decided to stop for a while to catch some. But engrossed in the fishing, the two soon lost track of time — and worse, their reserves of water and gas, Teitoi told the newspaper Marianas Variety.
For the next five weeks, Teitoi and Falaile drifted on the central Pacific Ocean, beset by dehydration. On July 4, roughly 38 days after they set out, Teitoi woke up to find his brother-in-law dead.
“I left him there overnight and slept next to him like at a funeral,” Teitoi told the newspaper. He gave the body a burial at sea the next day.
A few days later, a storm hit after five weeks of drought. Teitoi, revitalized with fresh water, felt he had narrowly escaped death, at least for now.
“There were two choices in my mind at the time. Either someone would find me or I would follow my brother-in-law,” the father of six said. “It was out of my control.”
A Catholic, Teitoi said he prayed often during those long and hopeless days. Besides praying, he spent much of his time shielding from the sun by hiding under a small cover in the bow.
On the morning of September 11, he faced yet another setback when a ship some distance away seemed to have passed him by. With nothing else to do, he took a nap in the bow after eating fish for breakfast.
What happened next baffled Teitoi: A six-foot shark banged on the hull with the intention, he said, to wake him up. The shark circled around the boat, and then suddenly swam off. When Teitoi raised his head, he saw the stern of the ship that he thought had missed him earlier. The crew was looking at him through their binoculars, he said.
“He was guiding me to a fishing boat,” Teitoi said of the shark, whom he now credits with his rescue. After a few more days at sea, Teitoi was scheduled to be reunited with his family on Sept. 16, and would finally be able to start his duty as a policeman in Maiana. Asked how he would like to return home, he answered resolutely.
“I’m taking a plane,” he told the newspaper.